The Art of Renovating a Historic Performance Venue
Sitting in the heart of Portland’s cultural district, the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall has been an Oregon staple since 1928, providing entertainment to diverse audiences. The venue hosts a variety of events including music, dance, theater, spoken word, lecture, and conferences. Mortenson was selected by Metro and Portland’5 to update the 33-year-old acoustical system within the historic building. As the home of the Oregon Symphony, it was important that the much-needed improvements to the aging orchestra shell and sound system were done correctly and efficiently.
The project included the removal and replacement of the existing shell, mechanical and electrical upgrades, and structural modifications. A new catwalk system was installed above the high ceiling to provide safe access not only for workers during construction but for stagehands who will operate the theater for years to come.
Originally, the work was set to occur without interruption to the concert hall’s regular programming, with the work spread over four complex phases between January of 2020 and June of 2021. When COVID forced the venue to close, the project team had the opportunity to work without interruption and completed the project seven months ahead of schedule.
A big challenge of the project was accessing the highest point of the theater. Innovative scaffolding solutions and a highly specialized lift with a reach of 138 feet was used to reach the area and safely perform work. Intricate scaffolding and flooring protection was carefully considered and installed to maintain the structural and finish integrity of the historic concert hall.
In addition to the high-reaching areas, the entire acoustic enhancement system was customized specifically for this space. Special care was taken to blend the newly visible elements with the historic plaster interiors originally installed in 1928.
Customized Sound System
The digital Constellation system by Meyer Sound replaced the old acoustic applications to enhance the sound quality and effects of various types of performances. More than 350 speakers and microphones were installed throughout the historic hall with special care taken to not disturb the historic features of the theater. The new system provides a more equitable audience experience, where the aural experience is the same from every seat in the house, and the onstage experience is enhanced for performers as well.
This was the first Meyer Sound Constellation system installed in a historic renovation. The world-class system required high levels of coordination, including scanning of existing conditions to achieve the exact placement of speakers and microphones, to maximize the acoustics and performances. If one speaker needed to shift due to existing conditions, all other speakers were re-analyzed for their placement.
The team utilized unique mounting techniques and access structures to achieve specific locations. Trade partners that specialize in access and scaffolding were brought on early during preconstruction to ensure the means and methods for speaker placement were recognized. Installed by Sound Image, the Constellation system in this venue is the largest in the United States in terms of total loudspeaker and microphone deployment.
The sound system upgrade is a much-appreciated feature for those attending a symphony, show or spoken word event. It is improvements like these that will keep Portland art venues alive for the community to enjoy for many years to come.
Facts And Figures
Project Owner: Oregon Metro
Construction completed January 2021
Construction began March 2020
Construction Cost: $7.6 million
90+ year-old Concert Hall